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Faith United Methodist Church

July 24, 2016

10th Sunday after Pentecost

Rev. Kristabeth Atwood

Scripture:  Colossians 2: 6-10, 16-19

Response to the Word (Bulletin)

Like a true friend, Lord,

you have not withheld the wisdom of your word.

Like a true friend, Lord,

you have given us the nourishment and strength

for the living of these days.

Sermon:                   Confirmation or Confirmation?

This summer, for the first time, we are having summer Confirmation classes. We’ve been meeting for three hours at a time for lessons, donuts and games. The donuts and games are going over pretty well. The lessons…. well, the lessons are the necessary thing we have to get through in order to get to the donuts and games. Last Friday I took some pictures of the kids and Tim playing Frisbee on the field at Dorset Park. Being the “cool pastor” I like to think I am, I posted the picture on Facebook with the comment, “Summer Conformation Class!”

Now, the different between what I posted and what I meant to post is small….just one letter. Confirmation vs. Conformation. But the significance of that one letter is huge. One definition of conform is, “to behave according to socially acceptable conventions or standards.” To confirm is, “to make something stronger or more certain.” In Confirmation class we are trying to gently guide our youth away from conforming to the world and toward confirming their faith in Christ.   More and more these days we can see that the path of Christ is not necessarily the socially acceptable or conventional way.

In fact, the true path of Christ has never been the socially acceptable or conventional way. No one knew this more that the Apostle Paul when he wrote his letter to the Colossians encouraging them to, “see to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.” As Paul knew, it is easy to conform to the world. It is often much harder to walk the path of Christ, confirming our faith day in and day out.

This summer our worship focus is “Everyday Saints: Inspirational People of Faith.” When you think of the every-day saints in your life, are they folks that conform to the expectations of the world? Or are they the folks who walk their own path, not worrying about what the world thinks about them, confirming their faith every step of the way?

When I hear the word “saint” I think of stained glass. When I was young, the United Methodist Church I went to was pretty plain. One Sunday, though, I went to the Catholic Church with my friend Julie. This church had stained glass windows that looked like giant sun catchers to my young eyes. And in each of the windows was the depiction of a person. I asked Julie, “Who are all those people?” She told me, “Those are the saints.” Being only seven or eight, and raised United Methodist, I was not sure what a saint was. But I thought the people must have been pretty special to have whole windows dedicated to them.

And I was right about that – the people shown in those windows were amazing people who did extraordinary things – St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Frances. Since then, though, I have learned something else about saints. They weren’t perfect people. They made mistakes. More than once Jesus had to set the disciples straight. The Apostle Paul, who wrote the Scripture we read today, threatened, and maybe even killed Christians, before he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. But we also know that these were people who were changed by Christ, who strove to let Christ’s light shine through them. After their confirmation in Christ they did not conform to the world, but were transformed by Christ’s message and lived for the glory of God. I don’t know about you, but this gives me hope.

There are Saints like Mother Teresa and John Wesley who lived great lives of service, but the saints who probably influence us the most are the everyday saints, those right here in our own homes and churches and communities. Saints are those who live for God, who are stewards of the love of Christ. Saints are those who recognize the gift of that love, accept it for themselves and share it with those they meet to the praise of God’s glory. I like to think of saints as those people who let the light of Christ’s love shine through them. Just as a stained glass window is most brilliant when the suns rays shine through it, we live as God’s saints when we allow the light of Christ to shine through us. Look around! I bet you see some saints. Saints are God’s sun-catchers!

Linda is one of my everyday saints. Linda was my mentor as I was going through the ordination process. She helped me learn the difference between conforming and confirming. Linda was (and is) a Methodist through and through, but she knows there are times to conform to the rules and times to challenge the rules, to be confirmed in Christ. When she had a question about the fairness or justice of a situation she didn’t hesitate to challenge it, even if it meant going directly to the Bishop.   I sat in the Bishop’s office with Linda one day, prior to my ordination, wondering if it was good to have such a rebellious mentor. I’ve since confirmed that she was exactly the mentor for me. Confirmed in Christ.

Recently you’ve heard Tricia, Julie and I talk about the “Act of Non-Conformity” we passed as a New England Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. In it we confirmed that we would not abide by the discriminatory practices of the larger United Methodist Church in regards to ordination and marriage of LGBTQ+ folks. After we passed our “Act of Non-Conformity” five other Annual Conferences and two Jurisdictional Conferences passed similar “Acts.” A little more than a week ago, at the Western Jurisdictional Conference, the first openly gay bishop was elected in the United Methodist Church. A bold act of non-conformity and a strong confirmation of the full inclusion prayed for by many people in our denomination.   I celebrate the boldness of every person who did not conform to church law that would exclude based on sexual orientation, but rather voted for Karen Oliveto based on the gifts God gave her to serve the role as Bishop in our United Methodist Church.

When we think of Saints we often think of those “Stained Glass Saints” I mentioned earlier.   Those people who came to be known for the extraordinary things they did in the name of Christ. Those whose likeness we may see captured in stained glass in churches and cathedrals around the world. But as we all know, there are many more saints…. ordinary people who did something extraordinary by allowing Christ’s light to shine through them.

Who influenced you in the name of Christ? Who are your saints? Those people who have touched your lives, and as a result you will never be the same? I invite you, in this moment, to call out their names aloud in an act of thanksgiving. ……

Conformed or confirmed? Let us pray that we may be confirmed in Christ, rather than conformed to the world or “the human way of thinking,” as Paul put it. Inspired by our everyday saints, let us pray that we may let God’s light shine through us that we may shine that light on the world. Some of our everyday saints may be alive and, indeed, even sitting right next to us. Others of our everyday saints may have passed on to the eternal life. As we close, I want to share with you a prayer I discovered that speaks to the continuity of the communion of Saints that God calls from age to age. Let us pray:

God of all those who though dead are very much alive, grant us the grace to follow in their steps. May the lamp of faith by which they walked, and then handed on to us, be never hidden under a multitude of worldly cares. May we treasure the light and share it with those around us, and then pass it on for generations that are to come. To your praise and through the name of Christ, our light and salvation. Amen! (B.D. Prewer)